Graduate Outcomes & Disability: Foreword
Equity of access to higher education is a policy priority for the HEA. This commitment to equity of access is embedded in the Strategic Action Plan for Equity of Access, Participation and Success 2022–2028 (‘the National Access Plan’). The Plan builds on the vision of previous plans for a more inclusive and diverse student population in higher education. Access to higher education should be independent of socioeconomic background, ethnicity, gender, geographical location, disability or other circumstances. The Plan’s ambition is that the student body entering, participating in, and completing higher education will reflect the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population and that higher education institutions are inclusive, universally designed environments which support and foster student success.
The National Access Plan places the student at the centre. Everything is directed at delivering positive and inclusive outcomes for all students at every stage of their higher education journey. This is underpinned by six student-centred goals – Inclusivity, Flexibility, Clarity, Coherence and Sustainability, all of which are underpinned by an Evidence-Driven Approach. The Plan identifies priority groups who will be targeted and supported over the lifetime of the Plan. One of these groups is students with disabilities.
The National Access Plan reports positive trends for students with disabilities with a sustained increase in participation and in the number of students in specific disability categories. The original new entrant participation target of 8% (from the NAP, 2015 – 2021) has been exceeded and the figure is currently 12.4% (2020/2021 academic year). Students with disabilities are supported through the Fund for Students with Disabilities (FSD) which allocates funding to HEIs to ensure that students with disabilities have the necessary supports and equipment to enable them to access, fully participate in and successfully complete their chosen course of study. Students with disabilities are also supported in accessing and participating in higher education through initiatives such as the Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH), including the new PATH 4 strand where phase 1 is supporting HEIs to develop universally designed higher education environments. Phase 2 will support HEIs to expand opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities in higher education.
Increasing participation rates of students with disabilities continues to be a priority with the NAP setting a participation target of 16% by 2028. However, our ambitions for supporting students with disabilities goes beyond increasing participation rates. It is essential to also consider the experiences of students with disabilities in higher education and their graduate outcomes. Graduate outcomes for this and other priority groups is one of the Key Performance Indicators in the National Access Plan that will be monitored over the lifetime of the Plan.
The wealth of data now set out in this Graduate Outcomes Survey report on students with disabilities provides valuable information on what happens to students after they graduate and how their post-graduation experiences may differ from students who do not have disabilities. This includes whether students are in employment or pursuing further study or research, which labour market sector they are working in, contract types, and average earnings post-graduation. Valuable information is also provided on the differences in graduate outcomes pre- and post-Covid and students’ feedback on how relevant their course of study was to their post-graduation employment.
This Graduate Outcomes Survey report on students with disabilities is a critical information resource that will support the HEA in measuring progress in the National Access Plan. It will also support HEIs in examining how students with disabilities can be supported to achieve successful outcomes. For policymakers and as part of the whole-of-Government approach set out in the National Access Plan, this graduate outcomes data will form the basis for considering what further policy interventions or approaches may be required to support students. It will also complement existing Government strategies such as the Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020–2025, Pathways to Work 2021–2025, Working to Change: Social Enterprise and Employment Strategy 2021–2023 and the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities 2015-2024.
The HEA looks forward to using and sharing this graduate outcomes data on students with disabilities to realise our ambitions in the National Access Plan and achieve an inclusive and diverse student population with successful and positive outcomes for all.